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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  3/1/2006

Going the Distance

One of my New Year's resolutions for 2006 was to do as many of the Western Wheelers Long Distance Training (LDT) rides as possible. I was primed. Motivated. Eager for the series to begin.

The idea behind LDT is to start early in the season with flat terrain and short distance, adding 5% to 10% of the mileage (and maybe even the elevation) every week. So the first LDT ride, slated for January 14, wasn't a very challenging one. Better yet, I was optimistic because starting the series two weeks into January would -- I thought -- avoid some potentially nasty weather.

Yeah. Right. Rain poured down that Saturday. The leaders wisely cancelled.

Well, no big deal (I thought). There are 19 rides in the entire series. Nearly all of them are a far cry from what we usually think of as training drudgery. They go through some truly scenic countryside, on some of the best riding roads around the Bay Area. About half take place on the Peninsula or in the South Bay. Others start an hour or two of driving time away from most club members' homes. A few are far enough away to warrant an overnight stay.

With gas prices what they are, even a one-hour drive is asking a bit much from me. I prefer to ride to the rides, so the early ones starting in Palo Alto, 9.4 miles away, were perfect.

The variety, organization and intuition behind these really popular rides is due to the folks in charge. This year that's Mark Mack, Samantha Schoenfeld and her main squeeze/tandem captain Doug Stuart. There's a lot of advance planning involved, including begging experienced riders to lead one of the three different groups each week.

You see, all kinds of riders show up for LDT rides. They're there to train for long-distance events later in the season. Each ride offers routes for three pace categories: Slowest are the Bs (10-12 mph average speed on flat to rolling terrain) so they ride the shortest distances. Ds are fast (16-18 mph) and ride the furthest. Cs are in between (14-15 mph). Some B and C riders elect to do one of the more challenging routes at their own pace. Everyone eventually meets up at a designated lunch stop for R&R and socializing.

So it's a big letdown for everyone when the weather doesn't cooperate. With the possible exception of Mark, who seems to relish riding in wet weather. It was obvious that he wouldn't dare cancel ride #2, which was to cross the Dumbarton Bridge to the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Fremont.

I later heard that about 16 riders did show up that drizzly day to ride with Mark. But when I saw that steady drip-drip-drip turning into slosh-slosh outside my window, I said, no way am I crossing the Bay in this!

The following weekend wasn't much better. I was really looking forward to riding over Mt. Eden Road to Saratoga, since it's practically in my own front yard. No such luck. The weather shut down again. And again, a handful of riders showed up anyway. This time it was the very few D riders who elected to do the shorter B and C routes, instead of the other way around. It was a good day to stay off Skyline Blvd.

Meanwhile, I'd had a whole month of next to no riding at all. Nothing longer than 25 miles and almost always on the flats. I got so desperate, I joined the local YMCA so I could take spinning classes on rainy weekday mornings. Better than sitting at home watching videos of the Giro, right?

(Yes, I know I could do that while riding a trainer. And there was a time when I would have done so. But that was years ago, before I foolishly sold my old TurboTrainer. I simply haven't found a replacement that works for me. Or a place to put it in my house.)

February Sunshine

Then came February and the sun came out. The February 4 LDT ride started in Palo Alto and wandered through Los Altos Hills and Woodside to the Pulgas Water Temple on Canada Road. We rode to the start and back afterwards, adding about 19 miles to the 34-mile B route. I was exhausted but exhilarated by the time I got home.

The weather continued to improve but my long-distance accomplishments didn't. Although I'm feeling fit enough to put in 35-40 miles with some short climbs in them, I'm not ready to tackle even a metric century, let alone a day of more than 2000 feet of climbing. Yet my goal is much more ambitious than that.

In four short months we will be leading a 12-day tour of the most famous cols in the French Pyrenees. My goal for mid-May is to climb to Saratoga Gap and possibly Montebello Ridge on the same day. That would be over 4000 feet of climbing! If I can clear that, I can probably get up any col in the Pyrenees. I hope!

Well, it just so happens that the Highway 9 ascent is scheduled for the LDT ride to Skyline and Summit on April 29. That's a little early in my personal training schedule but I'm hoping it will be a good measure of my progress (or lack thereof).

As I write this column, it's still February. And I know it's going to rain on a bunch of Saturdays between now and then. I really hated to miss the February 18 ride, from Aptos to Gizdich Apple Ranch near Watsonville. That's the traditionally soggy President's weekend, but this year there it snowed on Skyline, coming down to 1500 feet in spots. So instead I'm putting the finishing touches on this column and hoping to get out for a while tomorrow. Meanwhile, the hot apple cider that is no doubt waiting at Gizdich will have to wait.

Meanwhile, I guess I'll take my clue from Ed and Fred at Road Bike Rider:

"You're probably going to do some longer rides this month as the weather begins improving," they wrote in a recent newsletter. "Is it also time to bump up the intensity?" (What? Have they been watching me?)

Don't go too hard, too often, they warn. What I should be doing in winter is "banking foundation miles." Interval workouts (translation: hard climbs) actually won't be much help.

"Just let your intensity increase naturally on climbs or into headwinds," they advise. "Let the terrain and your mood determine when to pick up the pace or effort."

No kidding! A recent 40-mile jaunt to Woodside and back had me huffing and puffing over simple rollers into light headwinds. Time to dial back and spin.

"When you finish a long ride in February, you should feel like you could turn around and cover half the total distance again," they add. Well, I certainly didn't have that feeling, even after spinning the whole way home. My legs were burning from lactic acid build-up and I was probably dehydrated. At least it was the first time that happened this year. And the next day I did a couple of short climbs that felt pretty OK.

And I do have three more months to train. With enough dry weather, enough training and lotsa luck, this could be me!

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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